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Chevrolet El Camino and GMC Sprint / Caballero

Watching Ford gain sales success with its Ranchero, General Motors decided to follow suit and offer a car-based pickup. Chevrolet’s 1959 El Camino was based on the big Chevy Impala. It had the gull-wing styling of the cars, but with a load box that could hold 34 cubic feet of cargo. El Caminos came in 13 solid colors and 10 two-tones and had a choice of one six-cylinder engine or two V8s.

The same year GM experimented with a Pontiac ute based on the full size Catalina sedan, coupe, and wagon. Legend has it that Pontiac built two of these 1959 “El Catalina” coupe-express trucks. One was used as a parts hauler around the factory for many years.

The 1960 El Camino had a new oval grille and more angular rear wings. A total of 14,163 were built. The sedan-pickup rode on a 119-inch wheelbase and weighed 3,545 pounds. This was the last full-size El Camino made.

In 1964, the El Camino re-appeared as a boxy, truck version of the mid-size Chevelle. Standard ($2,380) and Custom ($2,461) trim were offered. Buyers could add many Chevelle options, but hi-performance V8s were not offered yet. Production was 36,615 that year. The 1967 El Camino had a new grille and front bumper. The 396-cid V8 was offered, but there was not yet an SS 396 model.

A completely restyled ‘68 El Camino rode the 116-inch wheelbase of four-door Chevelles. A new SS 396 version greeted performance buffs. Super Sport emblems and simulated hood scoops were included along with a flat-black grille sporting a 396 emblem. All SS 396s featured 14x6-inch wheels and Red Line tires. Production was 41,791 and included 5,190 SS 396s. The ’69 was a carryover model with 48,385 built.

The 1970 El Camino had a blunter, heftier front end with dual headlamps placed in square bezels. The cross-hatch grille had four sections divided by chrome cross-bars and a Chevy bow tie in the center. Trim and engine packages included Base, Custom, SS 396 and SS 454 models. The 454-cid LS6 V8 engine found in the SS 454 was rated at 450-horsepower and 500 lb-feet of torque - the most powerful of any GM engine at the time. Total engine choices included one six cylinder and nine V8s. 1970 would be the El Camino's peak year for performance as tougher emissions laws and the elimination of leaded fuel were enacted in 1971, causing a drop in engine power ratings.

In 1971 GM added a variant of the El Camino under the GMC badge in response to dealer requests for a car-based truck. The GMC Sprint was identical to the El Camino except for GMC Sprint badges on the fenders and tailgate, a GMC logo on the grille, and interior badges. A performance equivalent of the SS was also offered, called SP. Sprint SP offered three V8 options, including the LS5 454-cid motor rated at 365-hp. It's estimated that only twenty five 1971 GMC Sprint SPs were built with the LS5 V8, and up until the 2007 Sierra Denali and its 403-hp 6.2-liter V8, this was the most powerful engine ever used in a GMC light-duty pickup application.

The 1973 El Camino received its first new body since 1968. It was based on a new Chevelle, but it was a bit taller and about five inches longer. All models had impact-resistant front bumpers and were substantially improved in roadability, comfort and styling. Engines included a de-tuned 250-cid in-line six, a base 307-cid V8 and two 350s. The base El Camino was comparable to a Chevelle Deluxe. The one-step-up Custom and was comparable to a Malibu. The SS 454 V8 was available in Customs. Estate and Conquista packages were offered.

GMC also updated the Sprint for 1973 using the same Chevelle underpinnings. An SP option was still available but the LS5 454 became the LS4 and saw its power ratings drop to 245-hp.

Modest El Camino styling revisions were seen in 1974-1977 models. A new El Camino Classic trim level was added in 1974. It included wide rocker panel moldings, an armrest seat and fancier trim. The SS package was a $215 option and the Conquista package for the Classic model was about $125.  During this period, the base model had single headlights, while fancier versions used dual headlights. The grille and taillight designs were tweaked each year and the SS became more of a lick-‘em/stick ‘em model instead of a true high-horsepower muscle truck.

1977 was the last year of the GMC Sprint before it would be renamed the GMC Caballero and moved to a new platform in 1978 along with the El Camino.

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